Miss Me Not (Page 12)

Ashley and Dora both crashed halfway through the movie, but we continued to watch until the end. As my first experience with a Disney movie, I was impressed. Who knew animation could be so entertaining? Being a church daycare kid, my cartoon watching had centered on the same boring Christian videos over and over again in an endless loop. It got to the point that I would rather watch paint dry than see how Moses parted the Red Sea.

"How about some cookies and pumpkin bars?" Dean asked as his parents each carried a twin to their room.

"Sure," I said, standing and stretching. "But first I need to use the bathroom."

"Down the hall, second door on the left," Dean said.

"Okay," I said walking quietly down the hall so I wouldn't disturb the twins. Movement in one of the rooms I passed grabbed my attention and I paused in the doorway. I watched as Dean's parents carefully tucked each little girl into their bed, taking care not to wake them. Sweeping my eyes around the room, I took in the pretty pink walls, delicate furnishings and framed artwork that was obviously one of a kind. It was the kind of room I used to dream of having when I was little. It screamed of love and caring. Feeling like a stalker, I watched as Dean's parents tenderly kissed the sleeping girls on the foreheads before I turned away. I moved from the door, anxious to get away. I closed the bathroom door behind me quietly and leaned against it, heavily. Who were these people? Did people really act like this? I felt like I was in some kind of utopian movie, where everything was picture perfect. I was a fraud for stepping into their utopian lives when I clearly belonged in a dystopian world.

Once I finished using the toilet, I stood in front of the vanity washing my slightly shaking hands. I grimaced, taking in my reflection. My eyes looked larger than normal as they stood out against my pasty, clammy complexion. I needed to get a grip. I would finish my night in this alternate universe and then join my reality. I could do this, I thought as I left the bathroom.

"Everything okay?" Dean asked when I joined him on the couch.

"Yeah," I lied, scooting to the side of the couch to put some distance between us. It was time I kept our friendship real. No family dinners, no cozy nights on the couch and definitely no almost-kisses in dim hallways.

I tried to ignore the confused and somewhat hurt look on Dean's face. Instead, I pretended to be engrossed in the movie on the big television. The actual plot of the movie was lost on me as one action scene bled into the other, but my mind silently counted down the minutes and seconds until I could return to my worthless existence where I didn't feel like the biggest imposter ever. After what seemed like the longest movie ever, the credits finally began to roll across the screen.

"That was pretty good," Dean said around a yawn to his father as he stood up stretching.

"I agree. Plus, that twist at the end snuck right up on me," Tim said, pulling Sarah to her feet.

"Not me. I saw it coming about halfway in," Sarah said smugly, planting a kiss on Tim's cheek.

"Get out," Dean said, turning to me. "Did you have it figured out too?"

Since I'd spent the majority of the movie in a fog, I had absolutely no idea what twist they were all talking about. "Uh, no, it completely took me by surprise," I mumbled, edging toward the door so Dean would get the point.

"Madison, it was a pleasure to meet you," Sarah said, joining me at the door. "I hope we'll get to see you soon," she said, pulling me in for a hug.

Every cell in my body froze at her touch. My arms hung by my side and my back was stiff as a board. I tried not to think about the last time someone had held me in their arms.

"You're so beautiful, it makes my heart ache," he crooned, studying my cleavage that had recently come to life.

"You think so?" I asked, toying with a lock of my hair, trying to hide my smile. I'd seen the way he'd checked me out when he saw me at church. He was just trying to play it cool, the way he continued to keep me at arm's length, at least, until today. I knew he wanted me. I had been planning today for months. If this didn't have the effect I yearned for, nothing would, so I'd lured him in with the excuse that my dad had some schedule changes for him.

I had to hold back my giggle when his eyes nearly popped out of his head when I answered his knock at the door wearing a short revealing negligee I had snagged from Victoria Secret. My newfound chest was barely covered by the small slip of lace that made up the bodice. I watched as his eyes devoured every curve of my body while I led him into the house.

"Where are you parents?" he had asked, noticeably nervous, even as he took a step toward me.

"Not here," I said coyly, taking a drink of my Coke I had dosed with a healthy shot of rum. My dumbass nerves were being a pain in the ass. I could do this. It was just sex.

Sarah dropped her arms after a moment, and I was able to push the memories back into their vault.

That couldn't have been more awkward, but thankfully, Sarah said nothing as Tim slid an arm across her shoulders.

"Yes, you're welcome any time," he said warmly.

"Thanks," I stammered, anxious to leave before any other memories could resurface.

"I'll be back in a few," Dean said, grabbing his keys from the table by the door.

"Drive carefully," Sarah said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"Don't forget to lock up when you get home," Tim said, giving him a one-armed hug.

"Will do," Dean said, lacing his fingers through mine. "Did you have fun tonight?" he asked, opening the door of the jeep for me.

"Sure," I answered, buckling my seatbelt. I really was telling the truth. I did have fun, all the way up until I realized that my presence would tarnish their happy lifestyle.

Dean looked at me, obviously trying to get a gauge on if I was being sincere. After a moment, he finally started the vehicle and pulled out of the circular driveway.

"My parents really liked you," he said conversationally, pulling onto the main road.

"Right," I answered, looking out the window. He was wrong of course. Parents as a rule didn't like people like me.

"I'm serious," he insisted. "My mom told me while you were in the bathroom that you're a sweet girl."

I snorted at his words. "Sweet? She wouldn't think that if she knew me," I said sarcastically before turning back to my window.

"Mads, why are you so hard on yourself?" he asked exasperated as he pulled into my driveway.

"Dean, stop acting dumb. Even if you don't believe half the stories about me, you can't deny the ones that do count. For God's sake, I once made an entire church congregation split down the middle. I broke up a church. Is that something a sweet girl would do?"

"Cut the shit, Madison. Churches split all the time. What makes you so certain yours split because of you?" Dean argued.

"Because I had sex with the youth minster!" I spit out before opening my door.

By the lack of shock on his face, I could tell he already knew. Of course he did. Everyone knew. The box of poison notes in the Coffin under my bed proved that. For an entire year, I had endured crumpled up papers filled with hatred being chucked at my head. Everyone knew most of my secrets, but they didn't know all of them.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not on your life," I said, climbing out of the jeep.

Dean climbed out of the vehicle and trailed me to the front door. "When does your mom come home?" he asked.

"I don't know, eleven or so. She doesn't have to get up early tomorrow, so Friday nights are always late. Why?" I asked, confused that he'd changed the subject so abruptly. It took a moment for it dawn on me. He was so disgusted by my adolescent actions he'd prefer to ignore them. I didn't blame him, since that's pretty much what I had been doing for the last four years.

"I don't like you being home alone at night," he said, taking my keys from me so he could walk through the door first.

His concern was laughable.

"Don't be an ass. I've been home alone almost every night for the last four years," I said, trailing behind him.

"Do you want me to hang out until she gets home?" he asked, worriedly scoping out my house to make sure no one was hiding in the shadows.

Although I felt like I'd been put through the wringer tonight, I couldn't help being touched at his protectiveness.

"God, no. Donna would have a coronary. I'm not supposed to have friends over," I admitted.

"For how long?" he asked, finally done checking the area where we were standing.

"For as long as I live here. It's never really been an issue since she's never here to check. Anyway, with the exception of you and my friend James coming over a few times, it hasn't been a hard rule to follow."

"What is she: a warden or a mom?" he grumbled, heading down the hall.

"Hey, where are you going?" I yelped.

"I'm checking to make sure the rest of the house is clear before I leave you alone," he said through gritted teeth.

"That's pretty sweet of you, but seriously, Dean, you can't come over every night to make sure my house is safe," I said.

"Maybe not, but I'll be damned if I'm going to drop you off in a dark house that anyone could have broken into while you were out."

"You watch a lot of horror flicks, don't you?" I said as he scoured the rest of the house.

I held my breath when he entered my room. My sanctuary. The one place that no one else entered. Four years ago, I had ripped the room apart, trying to erase what I had done. It no longer resembled the room it once had, but as Dean slowly walked around the space, I felt as if he could see through the facade.

"Nice," he said simply before heading out and back down the hall. "Looks all clear. Text me if you hear anything suspicious," he said.

"I'm a big girl, Dean. You don't need to swoop in and save the day."

"Humor me, okay?" he said, standing by the front door.

"Fine, but you're being ridiculous."

"If being ridiculous means you're safe, it's a good trade-off," he said, stepping close to me. Before I could wrap my brain around his motives, he planted a soft lingering kiss on my forehead, much like I had seen his parents do to his sisters when they tucked them in for the night.

"Just so you know, everyone has regrets, but it's fucked up to be continually punished for them," he said, giving me a searching look before he closed the front door behind him.

My hands shook as I locked the door behind him, trying not to think of his parting statement. After being around his exuberant sisters and loving parents, my house seemed like a mockery. There was no laughter here, no joy and definitely no love. I went to the fridge and filled a glass halfway with Coke and headed off to my room. I closed my door firmly behind me and opened the bottom drawer in my dresser. Digging around under a pile of old clothes I never wore, I finally extracted a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels. I wasn't a heavy drinker, but I'd learned long ago to always keep a bottle on hand for times like this. I poured a generous amount into my glass before crawling onto my bed. The first gulp of the drink burned going down, but it had the desired effect, a warm buzz started to spread throughout me. A couple more drinks, and my senses began to dull. My empty life didn't seem quite as bad once my glass was nearly empty. It no longer mattered that my parents never tucked me in at night or that any pictures we had of me were closed away in some drawer. It didn't matter that my fears were confirmed. I didn't care that Dean knew I had sex at thirteen. Really, I didn't.

Chapter Twelve

I woke up the next morning to the ding of a text coming through on my phone. I grimaced at my extreme case of dry mouth and pounding headache. Jack may have dulled my pain at the time, but he sure was a bastard the day after. I took my time rising from my bed to make sure the room wouldn't spin. Grabbing my phone from the nightstand, I saw the text was a morning greeting from Dean. He was definitely tenacious. Once I knew that the only side effects of my liquor indulgence were the pounding headache and dry mouth, I set my phone back down and stowed the Jack Daniels back in my drawer before I staggered off to the bathroom to shower.

Avoiding the mirror, I slathered toothpaste on my toothbrush and scrubbed my teeth and tongue until they were begging for mercy. Feeling a little more human, I climbed into the shower and let the hot water cascade over me. I mulled over my near panic attack from the night before. In the light of day, things didn't look quite as extreme. Dean's words ran through my head on an endless track. He made it all seem so easy. Was it possible to forgive my previous sins? Maybe the world and I really could move on.

Energized with sudden inspiration, I finished up my shower in record time, and toweled off just as quickly. I threw on my normal attire and trotted out to the kitchen with my plan at the ready.

Donna was already at the kitchen counter, eating her morning yogurt.

"Morning," she said, not looking up from her paper.

"Morning," I replied, leaning on the counter across from her. Second thoughts began to creep in as she ignored me, continuing to peruse her paper. I finally decided to plunge right in. "Um, Donna?" I said tentatively.

"Yes?" she asked, lowering the paper slightly.

"Uh, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to get some lunch, and maybe do a little shopping," I stuttered out, feeling like a complete fool.

"I have other plans," she said dismissively, washing her spoon off and throwing her container away. "

"Oh, I was hoping to get some new clothes," I said, hating myself for sounding so plaintive. I was breaking the rules here. We could coexist as long as I didn't need her for anything besides shelter and food.

She looked at me critically, obviously trying to analyze my sudden desire to do something together. "I'm meeting the women from my bible group for lunch, and then we're catching an early movie. If you need new clothes, you're going to have to take the bus, or I can drop you off at the mall tomorrow after church," she said, scooping up her purse off the counter. "Or just order them online like you have been. It's not like your wardrobe ever deviates," she said, heading for the front door, leaving me behind with a cloud of her Estee Lauder perfume still hanging in the air.

I waited until I heard the front door close before sinking down to the floor. Talk about taking the freaking wind out of my sails. I was an idiot. Possibly the stupidest person on Earth. What had I been thinking? Just because I was slowly changing didn't mean she was.